With the number of air rage incidents on UK flights increasing, Chris Bond asks why we are seeing this tide of anti-social behaviour and what can be done to stop it.
For many of us holidays abroad are one of the highlights of the year.
It’s a chance to unwind and catch up on a spot of reading by the pool, or an opportunity to enjoy that city break you always promised yourself. You’ve booked your hotel, the luggage is sorted and you start thumbing through your guide book as you settle into your seat on the plane in readiness for the flight.
And then it hits you - that moment of dread when the rowdy group you spotted half an hour earlier at the bar clambers on board. You cross your fingers that they calm down and hope they aren’t sitting close to you. It’s a scene that some of you reading this will no doubt recognise, and you’re not alone.
There is a growing concern about drunkenness and anti-social behaviour on board flights, highlighted this week by Civil Aviation Authority data which shows the number of so-called “air rage” incidents on UK airlines has quadrupled in just three years - with 386 dangerous incidents recorded last year, up from 85 in 2013. These included examples of passengers fighting each other and one traveller attempting to open a plane door mid-flight.
Last month, 21-year-old Joshua Strickland, from York, was jailed for six months after his abusive behaviour towards cabin crew and passengers during a flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Cyprus in July led to the plane being diverted.
In the latest incident Jet2 said yesterday it had banned six passengers from its flights after a drunken incident on a plane travelling from Newcastle to Tenerife at the weekend.
There are growing calls for tougher action with Leeds-based Jet2 already leading the way having recently banned the sale of alcohol before 8am on its flights, to help tackle disruptive and abusive behaviour.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association (BATA), admits air rage and in-flight drunkenness is a concern.
“It is a growing issue but it needs to be put in context. Out of 251 million passengers last year there were a few hundred incidents, though the numbers are going in one direction. The industry needs to get a grip on the situation otherwise the numbers will keep increasing.”
He says the airline industry is working closely with airports and police and together they have created a new aviation code of practice aimed at cracking down on anti-social behaviour. “Airlines are already taking a number of steps to deal with this problem – from refusing the sale of alcohol to certain customers or stopping the service of alcohol altogether and banning disruptive passengers from booking again.”
But he says there’s also a wider concern. “There is a cultural issue about some people getting drunk at airports and on flights. Airports are not bars, they’re places to go from A to B and there needs to be greater awareness. This can’t just be an airline solution, it needs everyone working together.”
There’s an assumption that this is symptomatic of a modern malaise in society with some people seemingly unable to behave properly in public. However, I remember being on a flight to Crete 25 years ago where one female flight attendant was reduced tears by some of the on-board language and behaviour.
So this isn’t a new problem but it does appear to be getting worse as flights have become more affordable and passenger numbers rise. Critics have highlighted the so-called “pre-loading” at airport bars with some people even calling for a blanket alcohol ban both there and on flights.
This seems like a non-starter given the amount of revenue it brings in. But not only that, is it right that everyone should suffer simply because of the actions of a tiny, mindless minority?